Any New Testament teaching out of context can lead to the destruction of our spirituality. The true meanings of faith, love, and obedience have been perverted by our search for a creed book that does not exist. The book Walking by Faith, by Roy E. Cogdill, is an example. It is merely an effort to write a Church of Christ creed book because the New Testament does not spell-out our rules and regulations clearly enough. Cogdill's books are studied in almost every non-institutional "conservative" Church of Christ in the world.
Certainly faith entails obedience, but our faith has to have an object. Just as the Israelites looked back to their deliverance from slavery for the basis of their obedience, just so our love for God and love for our neighbor is based on the forgiveness we receive in the cross of Christ.
Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 cannot require more than the ten commandments do, for the covenant clearly encompasses all the laws that follow (Deut. 5:22). Jesus quotes these two verses as the greatest commandments of the Law of Moses, and says that all the Law and the Prophets (the whole Old Testament) hang upon these two (Matt. 22:35-40).
It is apparent that these two commandments summarize the dual responsibility of the ten commandments. There will come a time when the physical world will be no more. There will be no question, then, of adultery or stealing or murder. Yet God's eternal demand of love will not change, for God is love (I John 4:16).
Shortly before his death, Jesus told his apostles: "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). Israel could not understand the depths of love demanded, until they saw the commandments fulfilled in Jesus and his cross. The apostle Paul puts it this way: "
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery' 'Do not murder' 'Do not steal' 'Do not covet' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'...Therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law...Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:8-14).
After stating in Romans chapters 6 and 8 that we are not under law, why would Paul feel it important to encourage the Romans to fulfill the Law? Jesus fulfilled the Law. He is the one to whom all the Old Testament history, covenants, rituals, prophecy and shadows pointed. It is his person and work of grace that we can now see in the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the high priest, and the Sabbath rest. His selfless life and sacrificial death revealed the true intent and spirit of the Law of Moses. We have fellowship with Jesus in fulfilling the Law when we love one another.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not change the demands of God on His people. He comes to fulfill, not destroy the Law (Matt. 5:17). Even after the cross, God's demands are essentially the same. The difference is, with the incarnated Word we can, for the first time, see what God really wants from us. Jesus' whole life was devoted to the service of others. In his death on the cross we can see the epitome of love. God's wrath against the breaking of the Law was poured out against Jesus as He took the sins of the world upon himself (Gal. 3:13-14).
We cannot love others unless we first love God. We cannot love God until we experience His love in our own lives, and accept His free gift of forgiveness. The apostle John puts it this way:
"Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command, but an old one, which you have had since the beginning...Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you...This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers...And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us" (I John 2:7-8; 3:16, 23).
We cannot comprehend the depth of love that God requires from us (Matt. 5:48). That is why we must grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), for it is in the person and work of Jesus that God's demand of love is revealed (Titus 3:3-8). How tempting it is for us to minimize God's demand of love by overemphasizing the externals of worship (Matt. 23:23-28).
When one of my relatives was asked, "How do you decide what church to go to when you move into a town?" He replied, "I look for a Church of Christ that spends its money correctly;" (that is, does not support orphans homes). When asked, "What about love?" he replied, "That's a bonus if you're lucky." He would not budge from his stand. A technicality about spending money was more important than the example of Jesus Christ.
We must put our faith not in our own works, but in the work that Jesus has done for us (Eph. 2:8-12). Only then will we be free to love and serve God from a pure heart and clean conscience (I Tim. 1:5). "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love" (I John 4:18).
We cannot be made perfect in love, until we come to know God in the fullness of his grace and truth. True worship, heart-felt obedience, can only come as a response to God's demonstrated love (I John 4:10-12). In the Bible, God only reveals his will (or law) in the context of his saving deeds.
The old covenant (the ten commandments) was delivered in the context of the Exodus event: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:2-3). The Law of Moses, encompassed by the old covenant, is given in the same context: "In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?' tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharoah in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand' (Deut. 6:20-21). Forever afterwards, the worship, and whole life of Israel would be centered on this great saving act.
The new covenant is delivered in the context of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 26:28). It is a covenant made only with those who know God, who are called God's people, who have the laws of God written on their hearts, and who have their sins forgiven (Heb. 8:10-12). This covenant is made only with Christians. The demands God makes on his covenantal people are essentially the same: to love God with our whole being, and our neighbor as ourself. The difference is, God has now made his nature and will known through Jesus Christ. Not ten words, but The Word -- Jesus himself -- is the Christian's covenant (Isa. 42:6; 49:8).
The Law of Moses revealed our sinfulness (Rom. 3:19-20) and the justice demanded by a holy God. The new covenant teaches us that love goes beyond justice (James 2:12-13). Jesus, the perfect one, paid the penalty for our sins. He was cut-off from God, so that we might be united with God through his resurrection. Love does more than abstain from murder; we must be prepared to die for our brother (I John 3:16). Love does more than refrain from stealing; we must give to those in need (James 1:27). These truths were undoubtedly taught by the old covenant and the Law of Moses. Only the hardhearted sought justification by keeping the letter of the law, while ignoring its spirit and intent.
Jesus has clearly revealed the nature and will of God, which is to say, the truth of God. Jesus accomplished this by grace, the free gift of forgiveness of our sins (which we receive when we believe and are baptized). As Jesus has loved us, so we must love others. As Jesus has forgiven us, so we must forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15). As Jesus is kind and patient with us, so we must be kind and patient with others (Rom. 14). As Jesus has made us all one in him, so we must make no distinctions among ourselves (James 2:9). This is the will of God, the law of Christ. We no longer live, but rather Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20).
The law of Christ brings us freedom. It is the law of liberty. We have been freed from the penalty of law, of failing to reach the perfection of love that is God's essence. All of God's dealings with Israel were intended to teach this great truth. God had blessed Israel with the revelation of his will, but his will was the same for all the people of the world. Jesus came to save those under the Law, and those still far off from God.
Jesus is the covenant and law for the Christian. The term "law" is used in various ways in the New Testament. In reference to the new covenant, the law of Christ, it means "principle, or rule of life." In referring to the Law of Moses (and the old covenant upon which the law is based), James uses the term in its legal sense (James 2:8-11). Stumble on one point, and the transgressor becomes guilty of all. He must keep the law perfectly if he is to be in fellowship with God.
Of course, even under the Law of Moses, those saved were saved by grace, that is, by the promise of the new covenant still to come. Subjectively, they had the assurance of forgiveness through animal sacrifices, but objectively the sacrifices brought only a reminder of sin. Even so, the "new" covenant had first been promised to Abraham and his descendants. The Law of Moses was added to this promise of grace, and could not make it void (Gal. 3:17). Jesus fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant on the cross.
The old covenant, and all the Law of Moses, were just one more step in God making himself known to his people. Jesus did away with the ten commandments and the Law of Moses as a legal system of justification. They had proved their point. No one has ever been saved because they lived up to God's demand of love. Yet, the spirit and intent of the old covenant and law were not done away. They were fulfilled and completed in Jesus.
Jesus did not bring a new law, in the legal sense, for then we are without hope. Grace (forgiveness) can never be a provision of law (in the legal sense) because law demands justice. Grace is the satisfaction of God's demand for justice; Jesus -- God himself-- paid the penalty for our sins. We are free, not to sin, but to serve God with the full assurance of his acceptance and love (Heb. 10:19-23). We tremble before God's awesome love, knowing ourselves to be so unworthy. Yet we have no doubt of our salvation, boasting only of Jesus' work, and trusting in his forgiveness.